6 selected scientists are randomly assigned to 6 selected filmmakers. Each pair only has one week to create science-inspired short films themed Hybrid-Identity. As one of the selected scientists, I was incredibly lucky to be paired up with the wonder Inés Vogelfang. Right away we were bouncing ideas back and forth, excitedly adding new thoughts and suggestions. With only one week to complete a film, we had to have faith in our ideas and didn't have time to address any doubts. Here we describe our behind the scenes thought process through a discussion between Ines and myself (Merritt).
INES: When I heard that the theme for the Imagine Science film competition would be Identity-Hybrid, I recalled how the Argentinean author Borges quoted Heraclitus: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man”.
It’s hard to be bold enough to be always the same person, it is pretty tough to be the same person in the workspace, as the person you are at home, as the person you are when you’re around your family. We are conformed by our different identities, and our different ways of behaving in front of people.
As an Argentinean in the States there are certain things I can’t do, certain things I can’t say. In the academic environment my behaviour is not the same as my behaviour in my home, so I feel like we carry all these different identities with us. We take from the other to create ourselves, and we take from ourselves at home to create ourselves at work.
How do we show ourselves to the world? How can we balance all these “selves” ?
MERRITT: Which then lead us to the discussion of perception and observation. From a scientific point of view, let’s take for example the theory of relativity. It tells us that if you think two things occur at the same time, that’s just subjective opinion. Someone else could conclude that actually those two events didn’t happen at the same time, but at separate times. Meaning that simultaneity is merely a subjective impression.
Which then lead us to discuss observation. First, culturally how do we change our behaviours based off who observes us. How do stereotypes and prejudices change our how we act, and what we can achieve. How does who and how we are observed change our identity.
Secondly as a scientist, I study quantum optics in the Atomic and Laser Physics dept in Oxford (handed in my phd thesis last week!). And we deal with the phenomena of light all the time- in particular how observation affects the wave-particle duality of light. I wanted to explain this to Ines. The best lecture about this particle-wave duality is from the 1960s by Richard Feynman, which thankfully is archived and I could share with her.
INES: And Merritt was right, that is the best lecture to me, it's a tricky subject to try to understand, but I felt like Feynman was talking to me, trying to calm me down when he says in that lecture “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics”. And I could definitely agree when he said “electrons and photons act similarly screwy”.
What I learned was that the outcome, whether or not the light will act as a particle or a wave, really depends on how it is observed. Which relates to what we were first talking about, how we as people are perceived on a culture level.
MERRITT: And as a physicist and professional ballet dancer, I relate to this particle – wave duality. Light is both wave and particle until it is observed and then it is detected as one or the either. I've had to fight against the preconceived notions to be true to myself and not change based off who’s observing me and what they think. Often teachers and advisors, who might be trying to give good advice, will try to dissuade me from doing both because they think that doing both negates each other, like my two passions might destructively interfere to create null. But I believe that pursuing such a hybrid lifestyle by pursuing physics and dance results in constructive interference, because the two actually strengthen each other. I'm a big believer that creativity and imagination is absolutely necessary in the lab to think of new ways to solve a problem and an analytic mind helps so much in the studio when perfecting a move.
The next question was how were we going to explore this on film...
INES: Inspired by Feynman's audio, I translated it to my film school language and thought about the phenomenon of wave cancellation, this is where the waves of multiple tracks work against each other to eliminate certain frequencies, with destructive and constructive interference .
MERRITT: On Saturday we were listening to the lecture together and the rhythm and resonance of Richard Feynman's voice inspires movement. I had to hold myself back not to dance around the room.
INES: So we thought of honoring the way that Feynman explains this phenomenon. He does it in a very accessible way, so we thought of using Merritt’s duality as a dancer and as a scientist as a mode of representation of this phenomenon.
First we got access to space filled with light and columns.
MERRITT: The columns resemble the double split experiment that Feynman describes so well in his lecture. Therefore inspired by the rhythm of Feynman's voice and the incredible space based, I based my dance movements off the Schrodinger equation which is a mathematical equation that describes the changes over time of a physical system in which quantum effects, such as wave–particle duality, are significant.
The equation itself by just looking at it has such cool forms and variations, and then add it’s actual significance as a mathematical formulation for studying quantum mechanical systems.
INES: Final film will be shown at the Imagine Science Closing Night at Caveat and then we will share online 1 week later...